Lesson 5

Missing Voices: Rosalin Franklin and the Discovery of DNA (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT explain the discovery of DNA and the role of scientists such as Rosalin Franklin

Big Idea

Use an intriguing historical dilemma and drama techniques to get your students talking about and relating to the discovery of DNA's structure!

Notes for the Teacher

This two lesson series includes a drama technique I am working with for the first time this school year.  This Nova documentary about the discovery of the structure of DNA with an emphasis on the work of Rosalin Franklin is one students enjoy every year.  By adding in a second day to reenact and question the scenarios presented from multiple perspectives, students gain a broader understanding of the discovery of DNA.  The drama strategy approach is a great pre-writing activity that allows students to engage in multiple content related conversations in a playful, enjoyable way.   

On Day 1, students view the documentary and respond to individual reflection questions.  We wrap up with a whole group check in to clarify any areas that are unclear for students.  Standard(s): W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.1dSL.9-10.3RST.9-10.1RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.6HS-LS3-1SP7SP8XC-SF-HS-2

During Day 2,  students take on the roles of the characters represented in the movie and interview each other about the scenarios presented in the film.  Standard(s): W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.1dSL.9-10.3RST.9-10.1RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.6HS-LS3-1SP7SP8XC-SF-HS-2

The use of drama strategies is a new area of exploration for me as a teacher this semester and the student response has been overwhelmingly positive.  The opportunity to be creative, approach content from multiple perspectives, and be physically active has energized my class at a time of the school year when students begin to feel the fatigue of the academic school year.  I look forward to hearing about the strategies you employ to keep our students actively engaged throughout our school year together!

The Classroom Flow: Viewing the Documentary

40 minutes

1.  Tell students that today you will be watching a NOVA documentary about the discovery of the structure of DNA called The Secret of Photo 51.  For all teachers who are visual learners, here is the cover of the The Secret of Photo 51 movie box so you can more easily find it.    There are other options for movies about this topic, but I feel NOVA's treatment of both the science and the historical/social context surrounding the process of creating an accurate model of DNA is one of the best.

2.  Pass out the Rosalind Franklin movie question document. Set up the expectations for the day:

Students will view the movie thoughtfully.  (translation: no sleeping!)

Students can choose to fill out the question document as they watch the video or they can decide to watch first and then fill out the document before the next class session.  

  • Note:  I leave this decision up to individual students.  Some students find note taking to be an attention-focusing process while others find it distracting and stressful and actually prevents them from listening with care and comprehension to the the information being presented.

3.  Show the video.

  • Note:  You can buy this video on the NOVA website or access it on Youtube.

4.  While students are watching, watch with them.  If that is not possible, be sure to sit in the back so that you do not distract students as you attend to other classroom tasks.  In general, NOVA videos are well produced with famous narrators that students will recognize and be curious to listen to in relation to the subject being studied.  On a personal note, I so rarely show full length videos that when I do, students are already curious and engaged enough to participate as active viewers!

5.  What student engagement during movie viewing class sessions looks like and how to help them achieve this:

  • Students are sitting upright, with their attention and eye focus centered on the screen.  (I do not allow students to have their head down or leaning heavily on their arm (this cuts off blood flow to the head and does not help keep students awake if they are tired!)
  • Students stand up or sit on the tall lab stools as needed to keep from getting restless and to stay focused on the content being presented. (We all do and acknowledging it along with a suggestion/solution helps students to be partners in their own behavior monitoring).
  • As needed, the teacher can adjust the lighting in the room by opening curtains or turning on some but not all of the lights so as not to trigger a sleep response due to a heavily darkened room.

The Classroom Flow: Reflecting and Responding

10 minutes

1.  Ask students to look over their reflection questions document with their lab group and specify any specific questions that immediately jump out at them as an issue needing immediate clarification.  Use the spokesperson protocol to hear from each group.

The three most important questions students should understand include:

  • #8:  This question asks students sequence one of Watson and Crick's discoveries along the path to creating an accurate DNA representation.  This one was about the ways in which the base pairs bonded.
  • #10: This question asks students to summarize what Franklin's famous x-ray photo of DNA told us about the molecule:  that is was a double helix, and that each twist measured 10 angstroms in length.
  • #17: This question asks students to reflect upon the controversy surrounding Watson's autobiography and how the publishing and legal communities treat issues of validity and truthfulness within published writings.  

2.  Field any clarifying questions before the bell, reminding student to bring in their completed document tomorrow in preparation for the next activity in this two day lesson series. 

Note:  Most clarifying questions other than the three listed above are about small details such as dates.  For those questions, I tell students to look up more information online at the Nova movie companion website or other sources.  Here is a student work sample showing typical responses to each question.  I did not require students to type the assignment, but this student did; you can set your own expectations for written work based upon the number of papers you will be grading!

And now on to Day 2!